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The Foundations of Esotericism
GA 93a

Lecture XXIX

Berlin, 3rd November 1905

We will now throw yet more light on the hidden working of Karma and consider the Karmic relationships between peoples and individuals. Those who take earnestly the principle of not looking at the world materialistically, but who seek for explanations out of the spirit will understand this.

We have learned from history that illnesses which previously did not exist make their appearance in the course of evolution. So today, to begin with, we shall hear something about the origin of such illnesses as are connected with epochs and peoples.

We shall understand this from out of the spirit. The explanation the doctor gives is that this or that illness is caused by bacilli. We must however ask: where do the bacilli come from? They are just as much incarnated living beings as man. Of those beings too which act as disturbers of human life we must ask: Where do they come from? What has brought them into their present material existence? What were they before they incarnated?

Let us suppose, for example, that some nation or race is in its decline, is moving towards its downfall. It puts up a resistance. This resistance to its downfall is a spiritual expression of something that lives in the astral body of the nation in question. Were such a decline to concern only that which was to come to an end, then the feeling engendered would have no special effect upon others in the world. Let us assume however that it comes in conflict with another nation, plunging it into fear and anxiety and thus sets up a reaction in this other nation. Then we have a two-fold situation: the nation suffering decline, and what arises out of the confluence of the disturbance of the one people fighting against their own decline, and the fear and alarm of the other people. This is something lasting.

Let us take a particular case: the Mongolian onslaughts of the Middle Ages, when the Mongols came into conflict with the Europeans, spreading among them fear and alarm. Such fear and such alarm are then present in the peoples in question. When one looks at these attacking hordes, of which the Mongolians are the last, placing oneself in the mood of all these mediaeval peoples, one sees how the desperation of the last branches of the Fourth Root-Race and the fear and alarm engendered in the Europeans created spiritual forms. If such an onslaught were to be met with courage and love, then the putrefying substance would be dissolved. But fear, hate and alarm conserve such decaying forms and these provide a source of nourishment for beings such as bacilli. Later they incarnate in those material forms suitable for such an incarnation. Thus the decaying substances embedded themselves in the fear and alarm of the European peoples as seeds of decay. These are minute living beings. In this way arose the mediaeval disease, leprosy. It arose out of the decaying substance of the declining Mongolian peoples.

What then is the origin of those disturbers of human physical nature? They come from earlier spiritual causes, from sinfulness. This is Karma as it manifests in national communities. From this you can estimate how the moral life of a nation conditions the external life of the future. It lies in the power of a nation to care for its physical future through a corresponding moral life in the present.

All the European esoteric schools say that all the bacterial illnesses of modern times have a similar origin. The illnesses caused by bacilli are traced back to their spiritual origin. This is an esoteric tradition among the Rosicrucians and in other esoteric schools where these things are taught. A fundamental teaching exists in small circles of esoteric schools, the content of which is that in the seventies quite definite battles took place in the astral world which caused things to take a better turn, even though ... [Gap in text ...]. These events are called the battle between the hosts of the archangel known to Christian esotericism as Michael and the hosts of the god Mammon.76See later and more detailed presentations in for instance The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness. October 1917. (Typescript) Mammon is, on the one hand, the god of hindrances, who places destructive, hindering things in the path of progress. On the other hand one sees in this god Mammon the creator of quite definite forms which work disturbingly in human life just in the sphere of infectious illnesses. Certain infectious illnesses, unknown in earlier times, are brought about by the god Mammon.

We can estimate to what degree the esoteric schools must rouse a progressive thinking in the inmost depths of the human being when one realises that the actual source of these modern illnesses is nothing other than a retrogression, the longstanding conservatism of the so-called upper classes as opposed to the poverty-striken lower classes who are striving towards a new ... [Gap in text ...]. They are hindered, held back by what the god Mammon brings about. We find two forces confronting one another: the sentimental world of the declining upper classes, who like to preserve antiquated conditions, and the feeling of hatred in the lower classes—an astral life projected against the others by the masses. In this opposition esotericism again sees decaying substance and therein the cause of modern infectious illnesses. Whoever sees into these things will of course not take them as a reason for opposing modern medicine with its external remedies. But a real improvement will never come about through these external methods.

What will come about later always reveals itself in advance through esoteric knowledge. This consists of rightly perceiving how the morality of the present day can lead to better health in the future. One can judge from this how profound was the perception of those who introduced the Theosophical Movement into the world. It arose out of the knowledge of such relationships. It was foreseen that the threat of the War of All against All would take on ever more menacing forms. The things that must come about fulfil themselves with an inner necessity, just as events in the East develop like a fire there where there is especially inflammable material.77Refers probably to the outbreak of the Russian revolution of 1905 following the end of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904/05. See lecture 12.10.1905 The Present Situation of the World. War, Peace and the Science of the Spirit (Anthroposophic News Sheet Volume 1 3, Nos. 35 – 40). It would be senseless to wish to arrest such things. The appropriate and serviceable means to avert the War of All against All was sought by the Theosophical Movement through the spreading of the axiom of brotherhood. For brotherhood dissolves what streams into the world as means of decay, as hate. For as regards races we find ourselves on a downward path. If one were to believe that this downfall could be delayed and contained by hatred, not resolved by love, then naturally the very worst would follow. The Theosophical Movement would overcome this decline by love. Its founders know that the Theosophical Society is not only a remedy, but the source of the development of humanity as it goes into the future.

So one sees how the physical is a result of what preceded it spiritually and how in particular circumstances people have it in their power, through knowledge of certain relationships, to connect the physical with its spiritual origin. For example, if one knows how a particular illness is connected with particular feelings and emotions, he knows that by calling up these feelings he can also call up the illness. The black magician can make use of this knowledge to destroy the people. The deep occult truths can therefore not be taught to everyone without due consideration, for it would immediately bring about a sharp demarcation between good and evil. This is the danger inherent in the spreading of occult teachings, for no-one can be taught how to make people well, without at the same time learning how to make people ill. Where occult teachings have penetrated more into certain peoples such things have happened. There are districts in the East where one can hear true reports that there are sects who make it their task to produce definite illnesses. Thus we penetrate to an ever greater degree into the understanding of the ways in which the material arises out of the spiritual.

Now we will try to survey somewhat longer periods of time. We know that today there is a beautiful complementary interaction between everything that exists as animal life and the plant world. The plant makes use of carbon for itself and breathes out oxygen, thereby creating the source of life for all creatures in its surroundings who need to breathe. This source arises from the plant world. All that breathes today is there through the action of this mysterious workshop of the plant world. From this we can form a concept of how Worlds go under, how the World which preceded our Earth passed away. On the Old Moon breathing did not exist as it does now in human beings and animals. A quite different process took the place of the breathing process on the Old Moon. We can form a picture of the earlier process when we look at something remaining over from this time: the varying warmth of animals which develop the same temperature as their surroundings. On the Moon there was warmth or fire breathing. The inhaling and exhaling of fire or warmth corresponded at that time to the present day inhaling and exhaling of the air. In the middle of the Lemurian Age the breathing process began to take on the form it has today.

The spiritual process of the embedding of the Monad in the lower man finds its material reflection in breathing. Breathing signifies the inhaling of the Monad. In Hatha Yoga therefore the pupil goes through a breathing process. He regulates rhythmically what man has today as a natural process in order to bring breathing under his control. Just as before man advanced to this process of breathing, he inhaled and exhaled warmth, transforming this into the circulation of the warm blood, so the pupil of Hatha Yoga seeks to form the breathing process into something inward, to bring it inwardly under his control. The Hatha Yoga rules signify the transformation of the breath into a process that does not go from within outwards, but is inwardly regulated, just as today the circulation of the blood is also inwardly regulated. In the case of animals with variable temperature the process of blood circulation has the same relationship to that of human beings as the breathing process of the Hatha Yoga pupil. Behind all these things lie deep thoughts concerning evolution which ought to be the foundation of real processes.

What today is usually not understood is that in the air there is something spiritual. When there was still a consciousness of this, spirit was called: Air, Wind = Pneuma. Pneuma means a current of air and also the soul-spiritual. This terminology stems from times in which one still had a consciousness of the true connections. Let us now take the fact that on the predecessor of our Earth (the Old Moon) certain beings had evolved beyond the stage of the human evolution of that time. These were the Luciferic beings. When one considers these beings one must say: They did not live in an environment such as the Earth has today. They could not breathe air, thus they could not take in the spirit, for the taking in of spirit corresponds to the breathing of air. They were obliged to carry out in the warmth-principle what today takes place in the air. We differentiate on the Earth seven conditions of the physical: Firstly Life-ether, Secondly Chemical-ether, Thirdly Light-ether, Fourthly Warmth-ether, Fifthly Air, Sixthly Water, Seventhly Solid. Thus the Luciferic Beings had to carry out in warmth what man today carries out in air. Now you can understand that owing to this, these Beings who gave man his separate consciousness, his independence, are in a certain sense connected with fire. For this reason, when they make their appearance, it is connected with a certain craving for everything that manifests in man as heat, as fire. The craving attaches itself to man's individual warmth. So the donors of knowledge and freedom are bound up with something which seeks to incarnate in the element of warmth in man in a similar way to how this happened on the Old Moon. This is the connection between knowledge and birth and death, illness and so on in the world. With knowledge, birth, death and illness came into the world. This was the price man paid for knowledge. We see therefore also the connection between certain heat phenomena and illness, namely fever. This is the origin of fever. Traditions of this lingered on into the 19th century.

In the earlier Planetary conditions, the forerunners of our Earth, we had not to do as yet with human beings, animals, plants and minerals as they are today. At that time beings existed who had not yet descended so deeply as present-day animals, nor yet ascended so high as present-day man. At that time plants did not exhale oxygen. Oxygen, this breath of life, did not as yet exist. Only with the coming into being of our plant kingdom did nitrogen become mingled with oxygen. The Moon was surrounded by an atmosphere of nitrogen. In the second half of this previous Planet the beings did certainly already strive towards such forms as could breathe, which were endowed with lungs and so on; but only in our present Earth-Cycle did the plant kingdom evolve as it is now. The animal beings then developed the organs of breathing. They pushed the plant kingdom a stage lower, in order that it should provide oxygen for breathing.

These processes on the predecessor of our Earth had to be followed by a condition where life in the same form was no longer possible. The form had developed into something else and needed a new Planet. The preceding Planet had to meet its end; everything living suffocated. Thus do the Planets with their life perish, and from what has been prepared a new life evolves in the body of the Mother Planet. This is how the decline and uprising of Planetary evolution is to be understood.

Just as man previously had the other kingdoms within himself, so today he still has the evil in his Karma within him. This he is now working out of himself. In the future good and evil will be there in external forms, a race of the good and a kingdom of the evil side by side. At that future time the human countenance will appear in transfigured form out of the separated, downward-thrust evil of animality. Let us think of the transfigured human countenance that today slumbers like a riddle in animal matter, separated from the animal evil and represented symbolically. You can represent it to yourselves in no better way than in the great intuition of the Egyptian Sphinx. This not only points back to the past, but it also points towards the future. Not for nothing did the old Egyptians place the Sphinx in front of the Temple of Initiation. Initiation is the implanting of the secret of the future into human souls. At the entrance to the Temple it was through the Sphinx that the milieu for initiation was already created.

What outwardly is the body of oxygen is inwardly the Monad. As soon as oxygen appeared on the Earth the Monad had the possibility of incarnating. It is an attempt to possess the Monad when the pupil breathes in much oxygen and endeavours to retain it. Oxygen is not only something externally material. One must examine oxygen in the light of its spirit. Thus outwardly we have oxygen and inwardly the Monad. Oxygen therefore in the Lemurian Age formed the body for the descending sons of Manas.